Until Friday, I didn’t really know I felt about the new film United 93. Like every other American, the scant details of that heroic flight had seared themselves into my imagination, even as the wreckage still smoldered in that Pennsylvania field. But a movie? It all seemed so…exploitive, even if the filmmakers were treating it with the utmost respect. Did we really need to see this on the wide screen? Isn’t it awfully soon? I wasn’t sure, so I headed out for a charity golf tournament and filtered the plight of Flight 93 through the memory of one of its crewmembers, Sandy Bradshaw. A local woman, a mother of two and a part-time flight attendant, Sandy was simply doing her job the day terrorists took over her plane. Her family and friends have been reeling from the impact ever since. Take her sister Tracy Peele, who helps organize the Sandy Bradshaw Memorial Golf Tournament every year. A beaming woman of considerable charm, her face still slackens when she speaks of her lost sibling. It’s a look I’ve seen before.
Just days after 9-11, I hunkered down behind a camera in Sandy’s comfortable home while her husband Phil numbly answered Neill McNeill’s quiet questions. A airline pilot himself, Phil recounted parts of the cell phone call from his wife that awful day. Sandy was a fighter, he said. After a desperate discussion of her children’s future, she hurried off the phone to gather boiling water so she could join the others as they rushed the cockpit. She never called back of course, and the abrupt end to that anguished transmission haunted the father of two as he stared past my lens and into his own private abyss. I couldn’t help but think of my own headstrong wife and two young daughters as Phil Bradshaw surveyed the remains of his newly broken world. When all other words failed him, he motioned my lens to a pile of family photos - all featuring a radiant blonde with a visible verve and an intoxicating smile. As I swept the camera over the pictures, I dropped more than a few tears in its wake.
But a sadly predictable thing happened in the near five years since. The images of that day faded; those heart-wrenching photo albums now merely misplaced keepsakes of a conflict unresolved. Now, a feature film promises to drag out every anguishing cinematic moment. That’s not necessarily a good thing, I thought - but those far closer to this still open wound disagree. As a shiny fleet of golf carts zipped off into the distance, Tracey Peele and her mother Pat Waugh sipped ice from plastic cups and spoke to the local news crews. “It’s not too soon,” they both agreed. Put it off fifty more years or so and the pain of that day is still easily within reach for the two ladies within my lens. If a celluloid treatment reminds others of what none of us should ever forget, then cue up the reel and show some respect. At least that’s the impression I left with, after spending a few minutes with Mrs. Waugh, whose voice still tragically cracks whenever she speaks of a daughter lost.